Coming up to the first anniversary of my son’s death, we have been thinking about whether we want to continue writing everyday or every other day or once a week or not at all. ‘We’ being my ‘editor’ (read partner, for lack of a better word) and I. One day before Day 365 I felt certain that for now, I do need to write everyday. It is an integral part of my healing. It helps me name and acknowledge my feelings, recognise, understand and process them. I helps me dig through the muck as I am lying face down in it. It stops me from going into denial or drowning in grief, guilt or self-pity. It enriches my life in a way only sharing can, even if it is the mundane sharing of ordinary things. It helps me discover dimensions of myself that I did not know existed. It helps me convert a jumbled and out of control mass of emotions in my head into something tangible and ordered with a beginning, middle and end. It helps me challenge myself, ask questions and find ways to move forward through the darkness knowing that I am not alone. It is a discipline, an exploration and an education. It is a ritual – time dedicated exclusively to the memory of my darling son. It helps me to allow others to help me. It is a creative process that involves my partner and I, bringing us closer and helping us make sense of this thing called life, together.
James Pennebaker has been called the ‘godfather of emotional writing’. About 30 years ago he conducted an experiment. 50 students were asked to write for 15 minutes a day for 4 consecutive days. Half of them were told to write about superficial things and the other half told to write honestly and deeply about a traumatic experience they’d had. The wellbeing of the students was monitored for the following few months and it was found that those in the expressive writing group had 43% fewer visits to the doctor for illness than the other group.
Our lives are shaped by narratives. When we edit and rewrite these, it can change the way we see ourselves.
Carl Jung said,”I am not what has happened to me, but what I choose to become.”
My past is buried within me and I am a cupboard holding it in. But there are possibilities, even for me.
When we own our stories, we can work with them.